Empathy, authenticity are key pillars of a strong organisational foundation

By Amit Das

Bennett Coleman & Co. Ltd. (The Times Group)

Mumbai, India


We were all living in a bubble when it suddenly burst. Suddenly, we were hit by an unprecedented pandemic that affected each one of us financially, emotionally, and physically. On a positive note, it shook the entire ecosystem, and two strong pillars of empathy and authenticity emerged.

Let me explain my perspective in detail.

Strong leadership requires being able to empathise and connect with employees in a real and authentic way.
Strong leadership requires being able to empathise and connect with employees in a real and authentic way.

The first pillar is empathy, which is the ability to read and understand others’ emotions, needs, and thoughts by imagining yourself in the shoes of your stakeholders. I firmly believe this is one of the foundations of leadership that allows us to influence and inspire individuals to achieve their aspirations. Also, empathy enables us to connect with others in a real and meaningful way, and it discards superficial interaction boundaries.

The second pillar is authenticity, which is the most valuable and respected quality of leadership. In my role as the chief people officer, I always say I would rather be authentic than impressive. This belief has been my north star since I started my career and navigated my journey, both personal and professional, through the present day. I always say don’t expect loyalty if you can’t provide authenticity.

One of the most outstanding examples in recent times that I give of empathy and authenticity in building a great organisation is Airbnb. It consistently communicated during the pandemic, living empathy and authenticity to the hilt with a crystal-clear intent: employee well-being.

Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky honestly shared news about the organisation’s performance and layoffs. Its latest campaign, Belonging Anywhere, was a testimony of the company’s purpose, belief system, and values. Chesky acknowledged that, for a company with a mission centered around belonging, it was a tough decision to let go of its teams, especially during difficult times. His authentic approach separated him from others as he spoke about letting go of nearly 1,900 teammates — about 25% of the workforce.

Having narrated this so authentically, the empathy Chesky demonstrated as an individual and representative of an organisation is priceless in terms of the brand equity earned. He ensured that those leaving were taken care of from a severance, equity, healthcare, and job support perspective, thus treating everyone compassionately and thoughtfully.

A “departure meeting” with the leadership team and laptops as the “departure gift” touched many lives and demonstrated their intent. The leadership team acknowledged the real situation and started working toward creating a strategy for the new normal. It endorsed the belief that it is neither the strongest nor the most intelligent who will survive and build a strong organisation, but those who can best manage the change.

We all know the saying that Rome wasn’t built in a day. It takes time and patience to create something great, but we know they were laying bricks for a strong foundation. While it’s good to keep an eye on your final goal, I think it’s better to remember that empathy and authenticity are the bricks required. And it takes time to build strong foundations.

Today, as we steer ahead and emerge stronger from the pandemic, we need to embrace empathy and authenticity as the foundational pillars of a stronger organisation to fully realise the magic.

About Amit Das

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